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  1. #1
    M56 Guest

    Basic semantic meaning of modal auxiliaries

    In his chapter on modal auxiliaries in The English Verb, Michael Lewis lists what he thinks are the basic semantic meanings for each. I cite those meanings below and ask if you agree with them.

    Please remember, we are talking about the basic semantic meaning. In context, these auxiliaries take on wider meanings, but it is the basic meaning I want to discuss.


    Paraphrased.

    Can = I assert that it is possible that ...
    Could = I assert that it is "remotely" possible that ...

    May = If I have anything to do with it, it is possible that ...
    Might = If I have anything to do with it, it is "remotely" possible that ...

    Must = I assert that it is necessary that ...

    Will = Given my percepton of the immediate situation, it is inevitable that ...

    Would = Given the (hypothetical) situation which I perceive at the moment of speaking, the action described is also inevitably true.

    Shall = According to my perception of the present situation, it is, if it's anything to do with me, inevitable that ...

    From The English Verb by M Lewis. LTP 1986.

    Should is dealt with separately as it is a far more complex auxiliary and has many meanings.
    Last edited by M56; 07-Jun-2005 at 07:04.

  2. #2
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: Basic semantic meaning of modal auxiliaries

    I'm certainly not greatly taken with his definition of 'shall', as nowadays, I would say it primary use is in question forms, where it doesn't have that meaning. I think he's describing an older meaning.

  3. #3
    M56 Guest

    Re: Basic semantic meaning of modal auxiliaries

    Quote Originally Posted by tdol
    I'm certainly not greatly taken with his definition of 'shall', as nowadays, I would say it primary use is in question forms, where it doesn't have that meaning. I think he's describing an older meaning.
    Not really, in Lewis' opinion. He says that the question form just includes another person in its paraphrasing.

    Shall = According to your perception of the present situation, is it, if it's anything to do with you, inevitable that ...?
    Last edited by M56; 07-Jun-2005 at 07:29.

  4. #4
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: Basic semantic meaning of modal auxiliaries

    What do you think of his idea? I'm still not sure about the 'inevitable' idea and the forms 'shall I?' and 'shall we?'.

  5. #5
    M56 Guest

    Re: Basic semantic meaning of modal auxiliaries

    Quote Originally Posted by tdol
    What do you think of his idea? I'm still not sure about the 'inevitable' idea and the forms 'shall I?' and 'shall we?'.
    For me, there is a strong feeling of inevitability involved in the modal use of "will" and "shall".

    In its original use "shall" is similar to "will", but the former has the extra meaning of "if it is anything to do with me". Now, a lot of folks, mostly AE, see no difference between the two in deontic use.

    For me, the idea of "if it's anything to do with you" fits well with "shall I" and "shall we" questions.

  6. #6
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: Basic semantic meaning of modal auxiliaries

    We'll have to differ on that one.

    With Lewis' idea of 'remoteness' in 'could', I think he has a case even where both forms are used, 'can/could you pass me that?', where the remoteness can be social. (cross-forum posting, here)

  7. #7
    M56 Guest

    Re: Basic semantic meaning of modal auxiliaries

    Quote Originally Posted by tdol
    We'll have to differ on that one.

    With Lewis' idea of 'remoteness' in 'could', I think he has a case even where both forms are used, 'can/could you pass me that?', where the remoteness can be social. (cross-forum posting, here)
    You would see the same with "will/would" then?

  8. #8
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: Basic semantic meaning of modal auxiliaries

    In requests, yes.

  9. #9
    M56 Guest

    Re: Basic semantic meaning of modal auxiliaries

    Quote Originally Posted by tdol
    In requests, yes.
    Not in:

    I would come if you invited me.

    I will come if you invite me.

    ??

    "Would" as a more remote possibility.

  10. #10
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: Basic semantic meaning of modal auxiliaries

    Definitely. Sorry, rather a careless posting. Why does 'should' get special treatment?

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